Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My first go at Buffalo Trace - a bartender flop

(The Rusty Nail is kind of like the Manhattan of Scotch.)
I've been on the whiskey train for awhile now, and you may have noticed that's extended to the Rusty Nail - if my recent article wasn't clue enough. The Manhattan is of course, MY drink. I'd also like to share that I'd never gotten a chance to give Buffalo Trace the go around. Until fairly recently, that is. Now, before you get really into this article, I should offer you fair warning: this is yet another opinion piece.

With that said....

I was quite excited to sit down at a favorite local speakeasy style pub, to start skimming the whiskey section of their hefty drink list. Being that - as mentioned earlier - I'm on the most Rusted of Nails, I started off looking at their blends. I was disinterested in their limited selection, so moved onto the much longer single malt section. I had all but chosen my Scotch for the evening when I noticed a fairly priced Buffalo Trace straight bourbon, and decided to tuck away my plans for a tetanus shot. Rubbing my hands together, I ordered my Manhattan, with Buffalo Trace; stirred. Because who wants a shaken Manhattan, really?

(Buffalo Trace! Yours is a love I have not yet known!)
The drink arrived with the familiar red hue, and I took a sip at which point I was met with an overwhelming sensation of Martini Rosso. I'm not really sure what the ratio of whiskey to vermouth was in this case, but I suspect it was closer to one and one than the cocktail's standard. Perhaps my taste is off because I'm having hay fever, or perhaps I just don't know whiskey like I thought I did. Despite that I went to the washroom just to blow my nose for a solid minute or two, but I'm going to give them benefit of the doubt here and say that perhaps I was having an off night. Perhaps the two Rusty Nails I had earlier (Talisker, and then Johnnie Walker Red) have smoked out my senses.

See Also: Bitter me this, bitter me that

Whatever the case, I gave an unofficial promise to myself, and my readers, that I would never give a bad review to an establishment or a product, so I'm not going to name the premises where this happened. What I will say, is that I have gotten good Manhattans all over the city - including this establishment, which I like to frequent for a reason. By and large, I think its a fairly universally understood cocktail. But just to be sure that my own favourite cocktail isn't being misunderstood by myself, and all the other bartenders I've watched make one, I googled it, and verified that indeed the standard is an ounce and a half of rye or bourbon, half an ounce of sweet vermouth and a few dashes of bitter ye olde Angostura. Though, I wouldn't blame anyone for making it even a five to one ratio.

(Beware! This non-Manhattan is deceptively good looking!)
It's not the first time I've gotten a bad Manhattan though. It's the second. The first time, I ordered one of my own favourites, the JD Manhattan (JD Single Barrel is actually my top rated Manhattan). I'm not sure what it was, in that case, but it was just wrong; not terribly wrong though. It was still paletteable.

I still had to give the bartender the benefit of the doubt though, so I started googling reviews of Buffalo Trace (despite that I had already known it was a highly rated Bourbon - from some sources, the best). I was met by ratings such as 92/100, and several four out of five stars. Furthermore, I read descriptions of the palette which simply fell short of my experience.

See Also: The Manhattan returns to The Bottle Opener

The worst part of it all is, I almost knew that the drink was going to be botched as soon as I ordered it. The body language, the response to my order, everything was sending me bad signals. I really, really wanted to keep specifying my expectations after "stirred, not shaken", but I had to give my fellow bartender the benefit of the doubt. The why of it is, I'm apathetic. A lot of the time I go out and feel like I'm the difficult customer that's asking people to dust off the part of their short term memory they never use. Another thing is, I don't specifically like walking them through the way I make it for myself. Sometimes they do it differently, and even though its not what I expect, it's usually a slightly different version of the same thing. And I like it!

(Some of this might have helped out a bit...)
Which is part of the reason I keep coming back to the same establishments. When I sit at the bar and order my Manhattan, its somewhat comforting to hear them ask what kind of glass, bitters, or garnish I want. Sometimes it relaxes me enough that I feel safe to walk them through the Brooklyn, another personal Bourbon favourite.

I sat at the bar, consuming my subpar beverage, considering whether I should give Buffalo Trace another go in an old fashioned. The bartender returned to ask me what I'd like. Old fashioned just isn't my drink. So I hesitated for a few moments before saying I'll settle up. The bill somehow came back as over 23 dollars. Not quite what I was expecting either.

It wasn't worth it.

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